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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

6 alien smugglers sentenced in failed smuggling attempt resulting in death

MIAMI - Six Florida residents were sentenced on charges of conspiracy to smuggle aliens into the United States, resulting in the death of a Cuban National following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) joint investigation with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

On April 13, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore sentenced defendant Alexis V. Cervantes, 34, of Tamarac, to 108 months in prison, followed by 4 years of supervised release. Defendant Elieten Mendoza, 35, of Miami, was sentenced to 70 months in prison, followed by 4 years supervised release. Cervantes and Mendoza pleaded to the conspiracy charges. Cervantes also had pleaded guilty to failure to heave to USCG instructions.

Additionally, Judge Moore sentenced defendants Michel Lopez, 30, of Hialeah, Brainer Gomez-Cruz, 26, of Carol City, Humberto Carrazana, 25, of Hialeah, and Arley Ceballo- Gonzalez, 31, of Miami to 120 months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release, resulting from their trial conviction on 33 counts of conspiracy to smuggle aliens and encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the United States illegally.

According to evidence presented during trial and at the plea hearings, on Sep. 23, 2008, a CBP Air and Marine aircraft located two vessels rafted next to one another west of Andros Island, Bahamas. One of the vessels, operated by Cervantes and Mendoza, had numerous passengers on board. While CBP Air and Marine was monitoring these two vessels, a third vessel, operated by Lopez, Gomez-Cruz, and Ceballo-Gonzalez, arrived on scene and rafted next to the two other vessels.

After approximately one hour, the vessels untied from one another and began traveling toward the United States with two of the vessels acting as decoys while the other vessel followed approximately one to two miles behind. The Coast Guard Cutters' Pea Island, Farallon, and Ocracoke arrived on scene. Cervantes refused to obey the Pea Island's order to stop and instead accelerated. In the pursuit following the Scarab's evasive actions, a migrant fell and hit his head, suffering blunt force trauma and subsequently died as a result of the injury.

The Coast Guard interdicted the other two vessels. At that time, the defendants claimed they were fishing and did not know any other vessels in the area. Evidence gathered by ICE special agents during the investigation directly contradicted their statements.

United States Attorney R. Alexander Acosta commended the cooperation and investigative efforts of ICE's Office of Investigations in Key Largo, the 7th Coast Guard District, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Border Patrol, CBP Field Operations, and CBP Air and Marine Operations in Miami.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cristina Soto-Perez and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Russ Brown.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.